The best romance novels inspired by British classics

The Books I Picked & Why

Austenland

By Shannon Hale

Austenland

Why this book?

Ahhh, a fun modernization of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! I’m biased, of course, because I’m such a huge Austen geek and have been obsessed with Mr. Darcy since I was 14, but it was incredibly easy to relate to the heroine of Hale’s lighthearted novel. The protagonist—aptly named “Jane”—believes no man she encounters can ever compare to the literary rendition of Mr. Darcy. (Well, who could?) But what makes this story so enjoyable is seeing the way our heroine’s visit to the fictional "Austenland" resort plays out on the page, and how experiences by the characters in this fabricated Regency-era setting still have plenty of parallels—both to the classic novel and to modern-day life. It’s pure, delightful comedy.


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The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

By Lauren Willig

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

Why this book?

I fell for Baroness Orczy’s dashing fictional hero—the Scarlet Pimpernel—after watching the 1982 film by the same name starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. I then went on to read the entire book series he was based on! It wasn’t until I came across Lauren Willig’s charming Pink Carnation series, which pays homage to clever and elusive British spies like the Scarlet Pimpernel, that I found a new historical spy hero to delight in. I loved the modern-day protagonist Eloise Kelly, who’s in present-day England working on her dissertation, as well as her historical counterpart Amy Balcourt, who leads the fascinating and romantic parallel story in this very enjoyable dual narrative novel.


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Mr. Rochester

By Sarah Shoemaker

Mr. Rochester

Why this book?

When I first came upon Sarah Shoemaker’s novel, I felt myself issuing a silent challenge: Can the author really inspire my sympathy for the gruff and tormented hero of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre? While I’d always loved the atmospheric moodiness of the novel and could empathize to a degree with Jane Eyre herself, Mr. Rochester’s dark, brooding, and secretive nature made me uneasy, and I wasn’t quick to find him as endearing as some other classic literary heroes. However, it was fascinating to be brought into the point of view of this particular Edward Fairfax Rochester! I appreciated experiencing the world of the novel as he might have perceived it and found the detailed background on his life to be an enjoyable addition.


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Sex and Vanity

By Kevin Kwan

Sex and Vanity

Why this book?

Having been a huge fan of Kwan’s incredibly popular Crazy Rich Asians, I was already inclined to like this new book. Once I realized it was directly inspired by one of my longtime favorites, E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View (which I’d loved enough to write a modernization based on the original novel as well), I was immediately interested to see how Kwan would handle it. The comedy of manners and the exploration of cultural values and differences were the most intriguing aspects of the story to me. The focus on the ultra-wealthy—and all the toys and privileges that come with it—was less appealing, but it was still a thought-provoking element, given the context of the characters’ lives. Definitely worth checking out!


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Julie and Romeo: A Novel

By Jeanne Ray

Julie and Romeo: A Novel

Why this book?

There simply aren’t enough romances that focus on older main characters, so I particularly loved that this funny, Shakespeare-inspired love story had a 60-year-old divorced heroine and an equally mature widower hero. The protagonists are rival florists in Boston, and their families have been embroiled in a feud that has spanned several generations. Watching the way this novel played out—especially with so many meddling family members!—was great fun. And if, like me, you always wished the original Romeo and Juliet could have, maybe, been transformed into a comedy with a happier ending, Jeanne Ray’s light, modern romance just might be for you.


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